The bicycle tried to overtake the shadows.
It was a little past evening as it began to get dark along the street lined with trees. With the sun setting into the Tokyo Bay from behind, I stepped on the pedals of my bike.
Starting tomorrow, I’ll be able to go home earlier.
Attending the service club was now optional temporarily.
With a battle royal rule in effect, since the way I handled things differed from the two in the club, there wasn’t a need to force ourselves to work together. I was already set on what I planned to do and it actually didn’t require any preparation beforehand. It was fine as long as I managed something on the day of the event.
That being the case, the only thing I could do before the day of the vote was not get in the way of the two.
Even more so.
Even if I didn’t do anything, as long as those two did something, then that was good. There’s no doubt they’d solve the problem more effectively than I could.
We both chose to not interfere with each other.
There wasn’t a need for us to tread that thin rope just for the sake of getting closer. Preserving an adequate distance between another was a way for people to get along with each other, after all.
I decided to stop thinking about anything related to the club.
But humans were mysterious creatures. Whenever you wanted to free your mind from all thoughts, you ended up thinking about troublesome things instead.
In trying to consciously shift my thinking from school, I naturally ended up thinking about home instead. And what came to mind was this morning’s exchange with Komachi.
She’s probably still mad…
Seeing her angry expression was quite cute in itself, but when she started ignoring people, then that was proof she was really upset. My dad cried to my mom when Komachi ignored him.
My parents were likely to come home late as always. That meant I’d be alone with Komachi at home.
Normally, being alone with my sister at home was a situation that made my heart aflutter. Okay, maybe that really wasn’t normal.
But it was a little hard to face each other today in particular.
It might be better to be on the down low and let her cool down a bit.
So with that in mind, I turned the handle of my bike to the right.
If I head right on the national highway from the street that I took home from school, then I would make it to Chiba. It was a city that had a movie theater with a book store, arcade, and a manga café that would serve to be good time killers.
On the field trip, I didn’t have very many chances to enjoy alone time while walking around peacefully. Even the holidays we had ended with me just idling about.
And now, I could finally spread my wings. I was always a person who liked being alone after all.
As I thought about where I should kill some time, I gradually grew more relaxed.
As I hummed “princess, princess, princess 🎵”, I stepped on my pedals and continued down the long highway.
× × ×
When I made it to Chiba, it was already past evening with the sun setting down. The city was beginning to show off its night face. I continued down the 14th of the highway to the center of the city in the direction of the central station.
In this area, there were plenty of places to kill time; Animate, Tora no Ana, movie theaters, and more.
I cooled off at a few stores, bought two to three books, and took a look at the display windows in front of the movie theater.
The movie I had interest in was going to show in an about an hour so I had free time to kill. As a matter of fact, this free time was perfect for a drink of coffee somewhere.
Down the block from the movie theater was a Starbucks. I considered going, but I had absolutely no clue how ordering worked there. Also, I honestly couldn’t get used to that atmosphere of hip enjoyment that many of the customers seem to be submerged in. I decided to choose another place. I had no words that could describe that destructive feeling when you see a fashionable guy with glasses tapping away on his Macbook Air. “I’ll smash that damn Apple product and you together, four-eyes!” or something along those lines.
If it was that donuts shop diagonally opposite from the movie theater, I could get refills there. Café au lait’s were also applicable for refills as well. In fact, sweeting up the café au lait and drinking it afterwards made it even more Chiba-esque which was even better. It’s important to treasure your tea time, uh huh!
I entered the store and I ordered an Old Fashioned, French cruller, and a café au lait. I went up to the seats on the second floor, aiming for a counter seat.
Oh man, the bliss of being able to read while scrunching on sweet foods and drinking a sweetened café au lait truly was a dangerous thing. Even the idols thought so. If they were hurt by small words, then eating sweets would make them happy, dear me!1
As I looked around cheerfully for a seat, a figure looking in my direction entered the corners of my vision.
“Oh, it’s quite rare to see you around here.”
When I turned my head in the direction of the voice, the woman took off her headphones, smiled, and waved her hands.
She had a white blouse with popped collars covered by a coarse, knitted cardigan and even though she was wearing a long skirt, her long, supple legs were underneath. It was supposed to be a winter outfit but it felt like she was dressed up lightly. This may have been because of the typical light impression you’d get from her any other time.
This woman was the perfect superhuman who not only surpassed the current club president of the service club, Yukinoshita Yukino, but also was said person’s older sister. Yukinoshita Haruno.
Being in a donuts shop like this didn’t fit her image very much. On the other hand, if she had situated herself in one of those front window seats at Starbucks, she would make for a pretty good portrait.
Because I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone in a place like this, my body involuntarily stiffened up.
When I took a peek at Haruno-san, there were a number of books spread out on top of the table. That wasn’t to say they were all paperback books as there was a big, decorated bound book in the center. It seemed to be an alphabets book on a quick glance, but it may have been just a Western book.
I quickly greeted her and sat somewhere a distance away. Still, why was it that before you say something, you start off with “ah”? Was this an attempt at using English vocabulary?
In any case, I wolfed down my French cruller.
Damn it… Why the hell are you here… I should’ve opted for take-out… What a blunder… I should’ve checked for any acquaintances before heading inside the store.
Anyway, I need to finish this quickly and leave.
That was what I thought as I tried to finish my café au lait, but unfortunately, I was the owner of a cat’s tongue.
As I blew desperately at my drink to cool it down, Haruno-san sat next to me with a tray in hand.
“You didn’t have to run away like that. Gosh, so rude!”
“Ah, no, no, I just thought it’d be bad to get in your way and all.”
This may have been consideration from a loner. When you go to the city by yourself and come across someone you know and exchange a few words here and there, it becomes a bizarre situation where you have the thoughts “so how should I wrap up this conversation and leave…?” It was similar to how you become apologetic for making the mood worse.
One must retreat from the situation immediately in the face of unforeseen happenings. Drop your pride and get out of there.
However, for a person like Haruno-san whose personal space was quite narrow, that kind of thinking did not apply to her. She sat in the same way she did earlier across from me with a book in hand. With a quick flip, she opened up the book to the page she was reading moments ago.
If she was just going to keep reading, did she really have to take the trouble to just sit next to me…?
As I looked at her, I thought “she sure is a free individual”. With her eyes still glued to the book, Haruno-san began talking to me.
“What are you up to?”
“…Watching movies and stuff to kill time.”
“Oh what do you know, I’m kinda doing the same thing.”
“…You’re going to watch a movie?”
I unconsciously spoke with a bitter tone. But that, too, couldn’t be helped. After all, if we were going to watch the same movie, then breaking up here only to meet up again at the movie theater would be annoyingly awkward…
But that may have been needless worrying on my part since Haruno-san answered cheerfully.
“Mm? Oh, no, no. I mean killing some time until I go eat with my friends.”
Speaking of which, the college Haruno-san attended was close rather close to here. I think it was supposed to be in west Chiba somewhere. I think that area didn’t have that very many hipster stores, but there were definitely bars. If you wanted to get some dinner somewhere, then it wouldn’t be weird to head down to Chiba. Speaking of exquisite foods… naritake maybe? I mean, that layer of fattiness looked like snow covering up the landscape after all! So exquisite!
“Haa, with friends. Well, I wouldn’t want to get in your way so I’ll take my leave here.”
“That’s a little later. C’mon, let’s kill some time together, please~!”
She slid the chair over and squeezed her way closer to me. Too close, too close, so soft, too close, too closmells good, too close… Whenever she’d get closer, I’d try to back off. But whenever she saw me twist myself to get away, she’d only close the gap again.
And then, she whispered into my ears.
“Hikigaya-kun, your type is definitely the best type out there.”
Cold chills ran up my spine instantly. It wasn’t something simple like fear. After you fell down, you would look ahead into that dark hole to see how much farther you were going to drop; it was similar to this kind of pleasure. The soft feeling of her fingers as they gripped my shoulders, the tempting accents in her voice that caught my attention, and those glossy lips of hers.
When I threw my head back on reflex and looked at Haruno-san, her moist eyes met with mine. That suspicious smile of hers did make me want to let her do as she pleases and fool me, but she was probably enjoying this kind of reaction out of me too.
That became apparent when Haruno-san backed off and laughed hysterically.
“You stay quiet and you don’t talk to the other person. But when someone talks to you, you end up answering, don’t you? Yep, super convenient. You’re the best when it comes to killing time.”
It didn’t feel like there were any hints of praise in those words at all… Those specs were definitely worse than those recent browser games too. You know, like recently, those games where you just leave them alone, they’d still talk to you. Like Kancolle or something.
Haruno-san went back to reading. She added some words moments before.
“Guys in general try too hard when they want to get a conversation going. It’s a little sad to see, you know?”
…Aaaah, I totally get it… Aaah.
Like totally, those guys who were so desperate to get a girl to like them by blabbering about a lot of things. Normally, they don’t say squat, but lo’ and behold, given the chance and they’d suddenly get superficially courageous and try to lead the conversation only to not talk about anything worthwhile and bam, that was the end; those types of guys. That was seriously, super sad. So, which middle school period of me was this?
Anyways, no thanks to Haruno-san’s behavior, I missed the timing to go home. At this point, I may have to wait for another chance to come up again.
I just had to sit here quietly and there wouldn’t be any problems. In fact, being quiet was a specialty of mine.
It’s basically that. As expected, silent men were way better.
Here it comes… It’s time. It’s time for the period of loners. From here on, boys who don’t make conversation will make it big (and I don’t mean it in a popular way).
As long as I continued to stay quiet and not talk, there’d be no conversations at all.
The time continued to pass by comfortably.
I thought for a bit and realized that the last time I met with Haruno-san was at the culture festival.
But my impression of her was completely different from back then. This may have been because she was acting more docile than she was before. No, maybe I should say acting more like an adult.
Apparently, as long as Yukinoshita wasn’t around, Haruno-san wouldn’t act so cheeky. Instead, she was really calm. Then again, how much does she love her little sister anyway? I mean, I love my little sister just as much too, you know? Well, I guess she probably hated my guts now from this morning though…
The incident with Komachi this morning suddenly came to mind and I got a little depressed. It was times like these where thinking of other things would help.
Aah, these donuts are so gooood… But the café au lait might not be sweet enough. Dear me, did I forget to put milk in it? Using sugar sticks in place of milk, I shook the packs in my café au lait and as I was drinking it, Haruno-san was visible at the corner of my eyes.
Laid out on the table were books and sometimes she’d reach out for coffee while resting her chin on her hands.
Still, seeing her sit quietly while reading a book really resembled Yukinoshita.
Her fingers that turned the page, a slight glimpse of the back of her white nape as she drank from her cup, and the narrowing of her eyes as she looked at a certain word in her book.
She resembled the girl I’ve known for close to half a year, Yukinoshita Yukino.
Suddenly, Haruno-san noticed my stare and raised her face slightly, sending me a question with “hm?” asking if I had something to say.
I shook my head to that.
“…Er, I was going to ask for another filling.”
“Mm, please do.”
She passed me her cup and I asked for a refill of the café au lait and coffee from the closest waiter. The waiter took the cup and placed the refilled cup next to Haruno-san without distracting her.
I thought it’d be a bit weird to always be staring at Haruno-san, so I decided to take out one of the books I bought earlier.
Only the single sound of page flipping could be heard.
Even the store broadcast in the store wasn’t noticeable. Still, the lyrics of this song were incomprehensible. What the heck did “you are donuts” mean? More like “you are donuttery”. But listening to it normally, it was a good song.
Finally my warm café au lait came and as I sipped it, I flipped another page. Suddenly, Haruno-san spoke up.
We continued to read as we exchanged words.
“Talk about something interesting pleaseee.”
I unintentionally went silent in the worst way possible. I was pretty sure my expression was telling her how unpleasant I was feeling. What’s with this person…? I thought that and when I looked at Haruno-san, she had a huge smile plastered on her entire face.
“That super disgusted reaction… Gosh, exactly what I thought you’d do!”
After she said that, Haruno-san exploded into laughter. You didn’t have to say it if you knew that much…
Just when I thought she was acting docile, she started acting super cheeky again.
Simple and innocent, free without constraint, or possibly even overbearing.
As expected, I couldn’t think of any words that could capture her. I just can’t handle her.
Haruno-san looked like she found a perfect spot to stop reading and closed her book. She made a big stretch while groaning. Taking that kind of pose, um, really made me a little curious… The part that her little sister greatly lacked, that is.
“Is Yukino-chan doing well?”
Haruno-san reached for her coffee cup. As she rubbed the rim of her cup, she asked a question.
“I see. That’s good.”
Despite being the one who one asked, she didn’t seem too interested as she said that while placing her books in her bag. She put her elbows on the now open tabletop and after crossing her fingers, she placed her chin on top. Which commander were you trying to pose as here, commander2?
Haruno-san faced my way and cleared her throat intentionally.
“So… Did anything happen afterwards?”
Not mentioning a subject made it hard to understand what she was saying. As I replied with vague responses saying “what are you saying?”, Haruno-san sent me a dubious look.
“You went on a field trip, right?”
Well, she was a graduate from our school so she probably had a rough idea of when the field trip was held. But still, she sure was on point.
When I replied with a surprised tone, Haruno-san began speaking as if she was unveiling the secret behind a magic trick.
“We received some souvenirs from her at home.”
The souvenir must have been from Yukinoshita. Judging from what she said, it looked like she didn’t hand it over directly.
“She went through the trouble of home delivery…”
Is she dumb? She didn’t even buy anything particularly amazing and not to mention it was only a few stations away…
Haruno-san gripped her cup with both her hands and sighed with a look of boredom.
“I imagine she didn’t want to face us.”
“But she still bought those souvenirs… How honest of her…”
I was both struck with admiration and shock that those few words slipped out of my mouth. Because it was very typical of Yukinoshita to do those things, I was convinced. But, Haruno-san turned her head sideways in doubt of my words.
“Ahh, I don’t think that’s it.”
The way she had denied it so oddly caught my interest and I took a look at Haruno-san with a side glance. Yukinoshita was really fussy with manners and was definitely a part of the group of people with integrity; at least, I acknowledged that myself. Was I mistaken somewhere?
Haruno-san tilted her cup and looked at the black waves of her coffee in motion.
“She hates us, but she doesn’t want us to hate her back…”
She spoke softly with a kind, pitiful, and light tone. This quiet tone was directed at herself and at someone who wasn’t here.
I had the feeling that she wouldn’t forgive me if I asked about what she was looking at, so I stayed quiet.
When I did, noticing the silence, Haruno-san put her cup down and turned towards me with exaggerated movements.
“Anyway, with the field trip over, there shouldn’t be any more big events coming up. After that, it’s just studying for exams. Won’t you be bored?
I plunged into the conversation.
“Not really. There’s still the student council election too.”
“Election? Huh? Shouldn’t that be over already?”
Haruno-san had a look of puzzlement and groaned as she tilted her head. That’s a graduate for you. She seemed to be checking with her memories.
“They had it postponed since they had trouble getting candidates.”
“Ooh. So I guess Meguri’s finally retiring, huh?”
She sounded a little emotional somewhere. To me, Meguri-senpai was a reliable upperclassman, wait no, maybe not. Nope. In fact, she was the one who relied on me which made her cute in her own way as an upperclassman. In the same way, she was a cute junior to Haruno-san. What did you know? She was super adorable either way. Megurin, you’re so adorable. Megurin!
Haruno-san laughed as if she remembered something about my cute upperclassman Meguri-senpai.
“Since we’re talking about Meguri, I bet she asked Yukino-chan to try for the student council president position, right?”
“Ahh, actually, as matter of fact, she didn’t.”
“Oh my, how boring.”
Haruno-san flapped her legs in disappointment.
“…So Yukino-chan isn’t going to run for presidency.”
“I guess so.”
As of now, Yukinoshita’s plan was supposed to be about providing support for a running candidate. I didn’t have the slightest clue as to who’d be running, but I could already see how much trouble it was going to be. If you take into account the time and labor needed, the plan wasn’t very efficient, cost-wise.
As I thought about how exactly she was going to go about doing it, the person next to me was deep in thought as well evident by her audible breathing.
It wasn’t a particularly meaningful sigh, but for some reason, it really caught my attention. It wasn’t because it was sexy or lovely. Rather, that slight smile she wore on her expression as she stared outside the window was ominous.
“…Um, so what about it?”
I asked her a question after a short pause and Haruno-san showed me another one of her usual, charming smiles.
“Hmm? Oh, you know, it’s just I never did it myself.”
“Huh, is that so? That’s pretty surprising actually.”
I was completely under the impression she took up any public positions that came her way. I mean, she did serve as the culture festival’s chairman after all.
But, Haruno-san spat out her words nonchalantly.
“Really? I mean, it’s too plain given how much of a pain it is. The job I mean.”
“Aah, so that’s the reason.”
You convinced me.
More or less, working in the student council was a very plain job. If there was a big event, then as a student council member, you were able to take the lead and prepare as you see fit; the culture festival for example.
But other than that, there were a lot more plain jobs such as working behind the scenes like the election management council. They were nothing more than office jobs.
Besides, most of their time was probably spent sitting in the student council room lazing about while eating snacks. Should a problem come up, then they’d have to spring to action immediately. On top of that, as a member of the student council, you had to act as a model for all of the students in the school. Well, it was similar to being a civil servant. It was basically Servant x Service.
It wasn’t as if Haruno-san was into doing flashy things and I could see her as a hedonistic individual. That’s to say, she liked fun things and exciting things. Rather than diligently serve as a member of the student council, the image of her working as a manager for events that would happen around the corner like the culture festival suited her more.
Still, that brightness of hers was still something I couldn’t take seriously.
After she spoke with a piercingly, cold tone, she giggled. Was there something at the depths of those words?
As I worried about whether I should ask her or not, a voice called out to me in a different direction.
It was a voice that came out of left field, scratching at the exterior of my brain.
When I turned in the direction of the voice, there were two high school girls.
One girl had a perm with a short bob hairstyle. The other person had a face with slanted eyes looking surprised. She was probably the one who called out to me.
She was dressed in the uniform of Kaihin Sogo High which was relatively near to my house. The bag she was holding, however, was from a private high school in the city. She was someone whom I wasn’t familiar with.
Despite that, I came to realize who she was.
The name left my lips instantly.
I thought I had pushed the existence of all my middle school peers to the bottom depths of my memories.
Despite that, the name Orimoto Kaori came out so easily.
× × ×
This unexpected meeting caused my body to stiffen up.
We gave each other confirming looks to see who the other was.
The period two to three years back flashed by in my head. The sweat glands on my scalp gradually began to open. I could feel the drops of sweat trickling down my back as well.
The person next to Orimoto looked like her friend who was accompanying her. She was wearing the same Kaihin Sogo High uniform and was taking unassuming looks in my direction.
The friend looked a little bored, but Orimoto didn’t seem to mind as she lightly tapped my shoulders and raised her voice.
“Talk about super nostalgic! Aren’t you, like, a rare character or something?”
As they rudely stared at me, the only thing I could do was make a strained smile.
True enough. If you thought about the tendencies during middle school, the chances of meeting me were quite low. In the first place, recognition was a one way relationship. I would notice them, but they wouldn’t notice me.
But, as far as rare incidents were concerned, for Orimoto to recognize who I was and call out to me was definitely one of them. This wasn’t any different from how it was back in middle school.
Orimoto was what you’d call a self-proclaimed big sister figure and she was the type to mind the business of others. She was the type of person who talked to anyone regardless who they were and tried to get as close as possible to them.
Orimoto had a look of curiosity for a moment before stopping in her tracks.
“Eh, Hikigaya, you go to Sobu High?”
After I answered, I twisted my body slightly and also looked at my uniform. Of all the prominent public college prep schools in the area, the only one with a blazer was mine. You’d understand where the student was from with just one glance in this area.
Orimoto seemed to be thinking the same thing as she breathed out mixed with admiration.
“Ooh. Now, that’s super surprising. You were smart after all! Ah, but I’ve never ever seen what you got on your tests anyway. I mean, Hikigaya, you don’t talk to anyone at all after all.”
As usual, Orimoto was able to bluntly spit things out. She goes through the trouble of putting herself out there just so there wasn’t an invisible wall erected between you and her.
A refreshing type. She was probably aiming for that.
And then, the rest of her interest was directed towards the person sitting next to me, Haruno-san, as if it was natural.
As she asked with a curious tone, she compared me with Haruno-san. I felt something uncomfortable from Orimoto’s gaze and replied back unintentionally in a small voice.
“That’s what I thought~! I was like no way too!”
As Orimoto cackled, her accompanying friend also covered her lips as she was trying to hold back her laughter.
Back then, I interpreted that as a carefree laugh. That attitude of hers that she used to indiscriminately talk with someone was a way to show her kindness. That’s what I thought.
Why was I forcing myself to laugh with them? How revolting.
It felt like the events from two to three years ago were going to suddenly rush back into my head. I let out a dry laugh as if to try to get rid of those memories.
Haruno-san, who was observing our exchange on the side, peered at my face suddenly.
“Could they be your friends, Hikigaya-kun?”
The nuance of the way she asked me kind of felt like she was asking “…you had friends?” Maybe it was just me, okay, maybe it wasn’t, I see.
But, well, although I was asked if Orimoto was my friend, I couldn’t really object with “no she isn’t, not at all”.
However, in a situation like this, I knew what the best answer was.
“She’s a classmate in middle school.”
Yep, yep, this was the correct answer. After all, the guys whom I thought I was friends with would introduce me to others like this.
After I answered, Orimoto turned towards Haruno-san and bowed her head slightly.
“I’m Orimoto Kaori.”
After her introduction, Haruno-san once again had that usual probing stare of hers.
“Hmmm… Ah, I’m Yukinoshita Haruno. I’m Hikigaya-kun’s… Hikigaya-kun’s… hey, what am I to you?”
“Er, how should I know?”
Actually, why were you trying to snuggle up close to me? Please stop looking at me from below like that.
“It’d be kind of odd to be calling us friends. Hmm, maybe an older sister perhaps? Oh, or maybe older sister-in-law…”
As Haruno-san tapped her chin while thinking, she peeked at me. When I sent her an apathetic look, she grinned.
“Ah, how about a meddlesome girlfriend then?”
Oh dear, what’s with that lovely confession?
Was she an idiot? How exactly did going from a friend to an older sister result in that? Huuuuh? But wait, if you replaced the older sister with a younger sister, oh how mysterious! Then again, like that’d be possible.
The way she was acting was so incredibly obvious that it could cause misunderstandings instead. But that made it easier for me to remain calm and answer easily.
“Couldn’t you just go with an upperclassman from school?”
“Aw, you’re no fun.”
After she said that, Haruno-san made a pouty, sulky face. I was thinking how I’d like to poke those cheeks of hers, but there was no way I could do that and I shrugged my shoulders instead.
Haruno-san was probably doing everything on purpose, but I was really glad she was here. Thanks to that, I didn’t have to think too deeply about things. This may have been the first time I’ve ever been thankful to her.
If I were alone when Orimoto coincidentally called out to me, I’d have fallen in the dumps pretty hard. I probably would have ended up talking to the wall for five hours after I got home too.
Orimoto Kaori was a person from my middle school period that had to be avoided.
I thought I had to get away from Orimoto and company before dirt from my past was dug up, but that proved to be futile as Orimoto started talking to Haruno-san in that moment.
“Your seniority relationship sure is nice, huh!”
“I know, right? Well, that isn’t all there is to it though!”
“Eeeh? I wonder what that could be!?”
The two continued their pointless conversation with Orimoto’s friend occasionally chipping in with her nods…
I sat there in silence watching them exchange numerous amounts of words with each other.
Their social conversation continued to head in different directions with no end in sight.
In that period, the only permissible actions for me were to breathe and sip at my café au lait.
This time that felt like treading across a minefield continued on.
Suddenly, the conversation stopped.
For their first meeting, they sure had a lot to talk about. But now they had the opportunity to end it there and call it a day. Or that should have been the case.
But, Haruno-san crossed her arms in a dignified manner. She formed a thin smile and spoke.
“But still, going to the same middle school as Hikigaya-kun, huh? Any interesting stories?”
Those words acted as a trigger to continue the conversation. As Orimoto stretched out her “eeeh”, she started to look into her memories.
I had a horrible premonition. Actually, you could say that I knew something horrible was about to come up.
“C’moon, I’m sure there was something? Ah, like love stories! Big sis sorta wants to hear about Hikigaya-kun’s love stories!”
Looking amused, Haruno-san tried to stir up the mood.
I could feel my back getting sweaty again and I was close to bursting out in laughter because of my feelings returning back from the time I was in middle school. Actually, it was more like they were burned into my very being. Jeez, how troublesome. Humans only tend to remember the bad things.
If I had the ability to communicate better, I’m sure I would have told her myself. I’d talk about them while painfully laughing at myself.
But because I wasted time thinking about that and because I hesitated, I didn’t make it in time.
Orimoto brushed her hair and laughed embarrassingly.
“Aah, that reminds me. Hikigaya confessed to me once!”
She let out a truth so easily.
“That makes me super curious!”
It wasn’t just Haruno-san, but also Orimoto’s friend who joined in on the conversation, chatting away enjoyably.
It was a topic that could easily energize the mood and Orimoto who brought it up continued excitedly.
“We never even talked to each other before, so it freaked me out sooo bad.”
Orimoto uttered those words.
But, we did talk. We definitely did.
Orimoto probably didn’t remember it. More accurately speaking, Orimoto probably didn’t recognize me as someone she had talked to.
That wasn’t the end of it. I also texted her too.
Whether it was out of pity or compassion, I managed to get her mailing address. I’d rack my brain over trying to figure out what to mail her. Ultimately, I’d end up sending a text for the most worthless reasons. There was a time when I waited excitedly and worriedly for a response, only for a magazine text to come instead causing me to cancel my subscription out of rage.
There was no doubt someone like Orimoto would have known that had happened. Even if she tried to remember, it wasn’t there in the first place.
Back then, people who were in love with someone else definitely had no interest in people who were not in their social circle. Instead, their actions become the butt of their jokes. They even didn’t serve to be as lasting memories either.
Those words brought back a surge of memories which caused my emotions to go wild.
The incident long ago that I thought I had laughed away had accurately stabbed at where I was hurt.
As I sat there frozen in place, I slowly let out a deep, deep sigh from the forced smile I had on my face.
“You don’t say, Hikigaya-kun confessed huh~.”
Haruno-san spoke with a surprised tone. But those amused eyes of her were dyed with a sadistic color. It made me suspect she wanted to know what happened between me and Orimoto after seeing my reaction to her.
As I looked at the corner of the floor, I managed to squeeze out a few words.”
“Well, it’s just something from a long time ago…”
“That’s true! It’s a long time ago so it doesn’t really matter, right!”
Orimoto and I probably had a different nuance when we used the same words.
Because it’s something from long time ago, because it’s already dealt with, and because it’s already over. That’s why Orimoto could say whatever she wanted and laugh so innocently.
There probably wasn’t any malice mixed in. She just wanted to have fun talking. Even her friend and Haruno-san were the same. It was like they were laughing at something pleasant.
It was exactly like that one time.
Even though I confessed to her when it was just the two of us, somehow, the entire incident had spread like wildfire in class the next morning. I could then hear snickers and sneers from a distance away. It was the same.
There wasn’t anything wrong with just being rejected after confessing.
In time, it’d just become a laughable story. As a moment of my younger years, I could easily come to terms with it.
What was difficult was when I noticed myself for being disappointed in the girl that I thought I liked. I, who, didn’t even understand that much or even notice that much was just as guilty too. My ignorant immature self was something I couldn’t laugh away.
The conversations were still ongoing, but they didn’t reach my ears.
I was probably spacing out, thinking about the past.
“Ah, right, Hikigaya.”
When my name was called, I came back to my senses.
Orimoto looked like she forgot about the previous topic and instead started with a completely different one.
“Like, since you’re going to Sobu High, doesn’t that mean you know about Hayama-kun?”
I reflexively regurgitated that name and Orimoto suddenly leaned forward.
“Yep, Hayama! He’s in the soccer club!”
That was enough information for me to determine that it was the same Hayama Hayato she was talking about.
“Aah, I guess so.”
“For real!? There’s like a bunch of girls who want to meet him, you know~ Like this one here!”
Orimoto reacted as if she caught something. She then pointed to her friend next to her.
“Ah, this girl’s Nakamachi Chika from my school.”
Nakamachi or whatever her name sat next to Orimoto and nodded lightly with a fuzzy smile. Orimoto poked at Nakamachi’s with her elbows.
“C’mon, Chika, you might get introduced to Hayama!”
“Eeeh. You don’t need to.”
Although Nakamachi had said that, she looked just a little bit brighter and was clearly expecting something.
But, unfortunately for you, I’m not close with Hayama. We don’t even know each other’s numbers.
“Wait a second. I don’t really know the guy…”
When I said that, Orimoto looked more convinced than disappointed.
“Aah, that’s right. Doesn’t seem like you guys would fit anyway.”
I made another dry laugh. There was definitely something stuck in my throat from a while ago.
As I cleared my throat a few times, I could hear a whisper from Haruno-san who had blended into the background.
“…Hmmm, this might be interesting.”
When I turned to her, Haruno-san’s eyes lit up with a suspicious glow. And then, she suddenly raised her hand.
“Okaaaaay, onee-chan will introduce you to him!”
Both Orimoto and I were confused wondering what she was saying so suddenly but Haruno-san quickly took out her cellphone and began dialing.
She knocked on the table with her fist as she waited for the call to get through. It was probably about three rings. Upon hearing a voice from the other end of the call, Haruno-san spoke in quick manner.
“Ah, Hayato? Can you come now? Actually, just come now.”
Haruno-san said what she wanted to say and quickly hung up the phone.
“What exactly are you doing…?”
Haruno-san wore a big smile on her expression.
This person’s having way too much fun…
× × ×
As everyone waited for Hayama’s arrival, I stared out the window at the city absentmindedly.
It was well past sunset and the city was submerged in the night as its night face gradually began to show.
The sign of the karaoke store in the distance flashed with neon lights and if you looked up, you could see the monorails cutting through the darkness. You could catch the sights of numerous young people walking about on the streets.
Soon enough, the sounds of footsteps climbing up the stairs in the store could be heard.
“Oh, looks like he might be here.”
Haruno-san twisted her upper body and took a peek in the direction of the stairs. When she did, Hayama Hayato appeared and finally arrived.
It looked like he stopped by right after club activities. He was still in his school uniform with his enamel bag hanging from his shoulders. When Hayama noticed us, he loosened his bolo tie with a tired expression.
“Haruno-san. This is?”
Hayama looked at Haruno-san followed by Orimoto and Nakamachi. And then, his gaze shifted over to me to which he stopped.
“There was a girl who wanted to be introduced to you, Hayato.”
Haruno-san spread both of her hands and lightly pointed at Orimoto and her friend.
Not even in their wildest dreams did Orimoto and her friend thought the actual Hayama would make an appearance as they giggled to each other excitedly. They huddled together while whispering things to each other.
Hayama let out a very short, short sigh that could easily be overlooked.
But he quickly gave a perky smile afterwards.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Hayama Hayato.”
He showed the usual Hayama Hayato expression as if a switch was flipped on. From there, he introduced himself naturally and began chatting with them. Orimoto and Nakamachi began speaking as well, looking much cuter than they were earlier.
Now that their interest had shifted to Hayama, I was finally able to breathe normally again. The warm atmosphere in the store made it somewhat comfortable.
Now then, since Hayama was finally here, I could leave it to the youngsters to have fun and just go home… It didn’t look like I’d be able to watch the movie though. Then again, if I went to watch the movies right now, I got the feeling I’d fall asleep within seconds of sitting down.
I closed my unfinished book and placed it in my bag. As I waited for the perfect chance to say I’ll be my on my way home, the four were livening it up.
“Ah, do you want to, like, go have some fun somewhere next time?”
“Ah, that sounds like a good idea!”
When Orimoto and Nakamachi said that, Hayama nodded with a smile.
He acknowledged them without explicitly saying yes or no. It was a skill only allowed by handsome guys. If an average guy were to do this, he’d either be told he was indecisive or be ignored completely.
“Yep yep, going out to have fun is a good thing. You all should go. It really is a good idea.”
Haruno-san crossed her arms and spoke in a serious manner.
With someone to give the approval, Orimoto and her friend started getting excited as they began to discuss places that would be good to go.
But, I just realized. She did say “all”, but I’m totally not getting invited here am I…?
Well, that’s natural.
As far as they were concerned, I was nothing more than an offering to summon Hayama. In order to evolve a monster level 5 and above, you have to send a lower leveled monster to the graveyard after all. There’s no two ways about it. Gotta protect the rules to have a fun duel, you know!
Seeing that I was already sent to the graveyard, the only thing I could do was watch over the course of events here.
The conversation had become quite pleasant for a moment. Although it hadn’t been fifteen minutes yet, Hayama tactfully avoided going along with the two girls and skillfully managed to create the chance to leave.
“Well, it’s about time for me to go…”
“Okay. See you again Hayama! We’ll mail you okay!”
They waved their hands and Hayama responded by raising his. As they walked to leave, Orimoto and Nakamachi were talking to each other saying “oh my gosh”, “he’s so cool”, “this is so bad”. When they disappeared to the lower floor, their voices couldn’t be heard anymore.
As I looked at them until they disappeared completely, Hayama who had a smile the entire time made a cold expression.
He then glared at Haruno-san.
“…Why would you do something like this?”
“It looked like it’d be fun.”
Haruno-san smiled without a hint of shyness. This wasn’t anywhere near the innocence of a harmless prank. What I could see was nothing, but ill will.
Hayama made a threatening sigh.
“That again… So, why is he here? It doesn’t look like he has anything to do with it.”
Hayama turned his head towards me as he said that and Haruno-san responded immediately.
“That’s not true! That girl, ah, the one with the perm I mean. That girl was someone Hikigaya-kun liked a long time ago apparently! Isn’t that really interesting? I wonder what kind of face Yukino-chan would make if she knew about this, hmmm… Right, Hikigaya-kun?”
And finally, she sent a smile my way. But the only one having a blast was just Haruno-san.
There was no way I’d be having fun. But for some reason, Hayama made another gloomy expression.
Unlike the cheerful Haruno-san, both Hayama and I were silent.
The conversation halted and Haruno-san let out a short, bored sigh. And looking to change the mood, she stood up and tapped Hayama on the shoulders.
“Well, anyway, why don’t you go hang out with them? It might actually turn out to be pretty fun and go well for you.”
After she spoke, Hayama’s shoulders dropped. His gaze dropped to where his and Haruno-san’s feet were. It was exactly in between the two of them.
“There’s no way…”
“Oh? You never know?”
Hayama responded weakly and Haruno-san took his words lightly. When she pulled back her sleeves, a pink and silver wrist watch flashed.
“Yep, I managed to kill some time in a nice way. Okay, I’ll be going now.”
Haruno-san quickly gathered up her belongings as she said in a speedy manner.
“Hikigaya-kun, thanks for hanging out with me.”
She shuffled over to me and whispered in my ear secretly. A fresh, floral scent overpowered my nose while a soft breath hit my ears. Because of that, I retracted backwards suddenly. My ears are incredibly itchy darn it, so I’d like you to stop, please!
I took two to three steps back from Haruno-san to quickly make some distance from her and at that moment, Haruno-san quickly dashed for the stairs.
As she went her way, she turned her head and waved her hand.
“If there’s any progress, let me know okay~!”
It totally sounded like she was talking to me, but there’s no progress here, you know! I wasn’t invited, after all! Or so I thought as I nodded to her as she left.
Now with the boisterous woman gone, what was left was just silence.
The only ones left were me and Hayama.
That said, there wasn’t any reason for us to stay here.
This late in the game, there really wasn’t anything to talk about.
In the past, Hayama Hayato and I had talked and then we had ended it then and there. Regardless of how similar our goals were, how similar our ideals were, we were fully aware of how hopeless our positions were.
From here on, it was likely we would never involve ourselves with each other anymore. Their behavior from this morning made it even more apparent. It was the choice of not only mine but also Hayama’s.
I picked up my bag and started to walk.
A voice that sounded like it’d disappear came from behind.
I had absolutely no reason to talk to him. But, I reflexively stopped my legs. All I did was stand there without looking back, waiting for his next words.
“…Haruno-san seems to be quite fond of you.”
Unthinkable words caused me to turn my head.
When Hayama’s eyes met with mine, he let out a smile. It felt like that smile had seen through something and as I spat out some words, I turned back towards the front.
“Don’t be an idiot. She was just messing around.”
“She looks interested at the very least though.”
Hayama’s voice made it past my back.
The tone of the voice quickly changed.
“If she doesn’t have any interest in something, she wouldn’t act so cheeky like that… She wouldn’t do anything. She’ll meddle so much with what she likes to the point of killing it. For the things she hates, she’d go the extra mile to crush them.”
Was that advice or a warning? Hayama’s words were definitely sharper than usual. I was really curious about what his expression was like at this moment, but even so, I didn’t turn around.
“…Oh, how scary.”
That was just my honest opinion and although I was already well aware of the truth, I stayed silent and left.
× × ×
I rode my bike endlessly down the highway and eventually made it back to the city that I lived in. The day wasn’t even over yet and I was already feeling incredibly nostalgic.
I approached my house and opened the front door. Coming to greet me was Kamakura which was unusual.
He purred with an unmotivated tone and rubbed his head and body against my leg. You’re going to get fur on my uniform, stop it.
“What is it? Something wrong?”
I thought I’d try asking, but instead of responding with his usual purrs, he hacked out a cough instead. What kind of cat greeting was that? Was it like those “meowning” greetings, non3?
“C’mon, get going.”
I called out to Kamakura and ascended the stairs.
The lights on the second floor were off.
Considering the time, my parents definitely weren’t going to be home. But, it looked like Komachi wasn’t home yet either. She’s probably at cram school then. Testing season was just about three months away.
It turned out that some fur managed to get on my uniform so I decided to change into my house clothes.
I threw my uniform in my room and headed for the living room. I didn’t forget to bring along the take-out donuts with me downstairs. With this, I should be able to cheer myself up.
As I was about to go down, waiting for me was Kamakura who appealed to me again with his purrs.
“What, you still need something?”
With another purr, Kamakura headed for the back of the kitchen. There was a bowl with glued on wooden letters spelling out KAMAKURA. A quick glance made it look like it was a bowl made by KADOKAWA, but it was actually just a plate for Kamakura’s use prepared by Komachi.
In the bowl were leftover crumbs and powder from previous meals.
“…Nothing to eat, huh?”
Oh I see how it is. You didn’t actually come to greet me at the door. You were just telling me “there’s no food, damn it”. Not very cute, are you?
I opened the bin in the back of the kitchen and took out the oh-so-familiar crunchy cat food often paired with a silver spoon, and dumped it in the bowl. But still, if you were to mix this with milk, it’d look like chocolate, wouldn’t it?
Kamakura thrust his head into the bowl the moment I poured the food in. Halfway through, I couldn’t tell if the food was hitting against Kamakura’s head or going in the bowl.
“You better chew your food slowly.”
I stroked Kamakura’s head while wiping off the powder stuck to his fur before getting up. I staggered my way to the sofa and collapsed onto it.
When I did, I let out a deep sigh.
I continued to make deeper sighs, taking deep breaths.
As I lied there motionlessly, Kamakura rubbed at my feet and came closer.
I thought he had come to report that he was done with his food, but instead he climbed onto my legs. With a satisfied sigh, he began to purr.
“…What do you know? You’re surprisingly tactful, aren’t you?”
I was pretty sure he was just using me as a replacement for a hot water bottle because he was cold, but, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time.
I grabbed a comb and brushed Kamakura’s back. While doing that, my eyelids started to grow heavy.
What a long day.